Christian Democrat (CDU) opposition leader Friedrich Merz stepped down as the keynote speaker at a right-wing US-German political forum set to take place in Berlin at the end of August after receiving criticism for sharing space with far-right figures invited to the event.
The “Transatlantic Forum” was to be organized in Berlin by the representative office of the German state of Baden-Württemberg.
However, the office said on Tuesday after further reviewing the guest list that it would not host the event.
In a tweet, the office said some speakers showed a “proximity” to the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party.
“The event is therefore likely to damage the reputation of the state’s representation,” the office said.
Merz’s office gave no explicit reason for the opposition leader’s withdrawal, citing only a “change in the program.”
It’s unclear if the forum will continue after the keynote speaker and venue are down.
Merz and Lindsey Graham were headliners
The event is organized by the German right-wing media organization The Republic and the US-based Tholos Foundation, which considers itself an “advocate for a free market, low taxes and pro-competitive policies”.
The keynote at the forum was a discussion between CDUs Merz and US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham about transatlantic relations.
After announcing his withdrawal, Merz’s office said he still plans to speak to Lindsay Graham in August, just not at the event.
Lindsey Graham is an outspoken political supporter of Donald Trump
Graham is known as a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, even after the 2020 election in which Trump refused to admit defeat.
The South Carolina senator is currently battling a subpoena to testify in a Georgia grand jury investigation over his knowledge of “a coordinated multi-state plan of the Trump campaign to improve the results of the November 2020 election in Georgia.” and elsewhere.”
Social Democrat (SPD) general secretary Kevin Kühnert told Germany’s t-online news website that it was striking that Merz spoke to Graham about “saving conservative values” given the “radicalization” of the Republican Party and Trump- supporters who “actively erode fundamental democratic rights.”
Controversial right-wing guys
Another US conservative on the guest list is Grover Norquist, a longtime Republican political agent and gun lobbyist who sits on the board of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and is an outspoken opponent of gun control in the US.
Norquist also opposes government spending, saying in 2015 that his goal is to “make government so small that we can drown it in a bathtub.”
On the German side of the guest list is Joachim Steinhöfel, a former AfD lawyer who represented party co-chief Alice Weidel in a defamation lawsuit against Facebook in 2018.
Polemicist and publicist Henryk Broder has also been invited, who has argued, among other things, that German policy in the Middle East is calming the Islamists.
Konstanin von Notz, deputy leader of the Green Party, told the newspaper group Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND) that it was politically untenable for a high-ranking politician like Merz to participate in such events.
Von Notz added that Merz had to “restore his political compass.”
German journalist Miriam Lau reported that Merz was not aware of the full guest list, which eventually included figures such as Steinhöfel and Broder, when he first agreed to attend.